Do you believe in trolls? Not the cartoon characters from the DreamWorks movie, or the mythological figures your Norwegian grandfather warned you about. I’m talking about Alux, or Aluxob if there’s more than one: Mexican trolls. These impish little beings who vandalize things and play tricks on humans usually wear traditional Mayan clothing and stand only a couple of feet tall. Sometimes they change into animals. Often they are invisible. They’re legendary throughout the Mayan world, and a surprising number of people believe in them.

I recently stayed at Mahekal Beach Resort in Playa del Carmen, a lovely haven offering the requisite white sandy beach, hammock, infinity pools, and palm trees. While there, I decided to delve into the mysteries of the Aluxob and learn more about their mythology, of which few tourists are aware.

According to some of the locals I chatted with, across the street from Mahekal there’s a pyramid built specifically for the Aluxob. Not much bigger than a doghouse, they explained, it was meant to keep the little guys happy. A few people described the location, but because of construction, my attempts to find it came up empty. It probably didn’t help that I began looking right after a tequila tasting at Mahekal. Not to worry. There were others, I knew.

The resort makes the perfect location for exploring the Mexican Riviera and Playa del Carmen. It’s located right on the beach, and only a few blocks from Avenida Cinco, the epic Mexican street jammed with hundreds of shops, bars, and restaurants. I’d rented a car but found I never needed it. When I felt like getting out of Playa, Mahekal set up a snorkeling trip through some area cenotes, or natural caves, and a Tulum adventure. I’m usually extremely independent and insist on driving myself, but this time it was nice to let someone else deal with speed bumps and la policía.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

I’ve spent a lot of time exploring Mexico, but on this trip I found myself doing a lot of chilling at the resort, enjoying the balcony, savoring the million-dollar view, and reading everything I could find about the Aluxob. The waves were my soundtrack. Green coconuts ripened in a wooden box next to my hammock and outdoor bamboo shower. Fresh flowers adorned my canopy bed, and there was a colorful basket full of ripe fruit.

It was ironic, I thought, that the hotel kept me happy—with little treats and Mexican candies left in my room—in the same way that many local businesses left water and sweets for the Aluxob. The belief is that these creatures are generally good-natured but can turn nasty in a moment if you don’t give them what they want. That sounds like some hotel guests I’ve run into before.

The more I asked around, the more stories I heard about the Aluxob. An American friend of mine relocated to Mexico, and she got married about a year ago at the Alux Cenote restaurant. Shortly afterward she noticed that the mates of her shoes were consistently missing. At first she didn’t believe in mythological foul play, until she realized she had almost 100 single shoes. She started putting a pair under her pillow at night in a plastic bag to keep them away from the Alux. Another friend told me of a security guard acquaintance who charges his phone inside the building where he works and has repeatedly found it disconnected and hidden on the other side of the building. Coincidence? There are stories everywhere, and there’s nothing to disprove them, so….

The indigenous Mayans in Yucatán and Quintana Roo have their own language, foods, and beliefs. At the Mahekal we were treated to an authentic Mayan lunch, prepared in front of us in a traditional fire pit by a chef who spoke only Mayan and needed an interpreter. I ate fresh grouper mixed with local spices and wrapped in banana leaves, and drank an indigenous flower tea out of a coconut shell, for an experience that was rustic but upscale at the same time.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

I felt like I was being spoiled, but I was eating food prepared with techniques from hundreds of years ago. The workers all seemed to know quite a bit about their Mayan heritage. I asked them about Aluxob. Were they believers? Yup. In fact, I couldn’t find anyone who didn’t believe. I tried to think of an equivalent figure in our culture, one that many believe in but whose existence is unproven. The best comparison I could think of is the American belief in ghosts. Maybe we don’t really see them or think about them, but if they do exist, we certainly don’t want to anger them. Hundreds of TV shows prove that we have a fascination with, and healthy respect for, ghosts.

There’s lots of areas scattered around Mahekal that you can explore when you want to take a break from sun-worshiping and stretch your legs. Besides a beautiful strip of beach, there’s a lush jungle. When you’re walking through the trees, it’s hard to believe that there’s a bustling downtown just a five-minute walk away. The Aluxob are said to have mystical origins in forested and other natural areas, so you’re just as likely to spot one here as anywhere else.

There have been stories of people lost in the brush who reportedly survived on food and water given to them by the Aluxob. As with most legends, there’s little evidence to support these tales, but there are enough of them to turn the uninitiated into believers. As a tourist, you don’t really have to worry about them, since you’re not going to be around long enough to make them mad. But farmers and businesses in Mexico go to great lengths to appease these mythological figures.

The overpass by the Cancun airport is a great example. The construction company building the structure was supposedly warned by a Mayan shaman to make sure that the Aluxob approved of the bridge. They didn’t, and the bridge collapsed. Then they rebuilt the bridge and, for no apparent reason, it fell again. The company reconsidered and decided to build a small temple below the structure, so the Aluxob wouldn’t muss things up. The bridge has remained perfectly fine ever since.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

Traveler's Tips

Getting There

There are daily flights from Houston to Cancun with United, Spirit, and Aeromexico. Playa del Carmen is one hour south of the international airport and can be reached by hotel shuttle, rental car, or local bus.

Stay

Mahekal Beach Resort rooms start at $200/night. Pay a bit more for included meals. Peak season is between Christmas and Spring Break.

Eat

For a unique experience, have dinner at the Alux Restaurant, located inside a cenote cave, or dine right on the beach at Mahekal’s restaurant, Fuego. 

Do

There’s no shortage of fun things to do in the area: take a ferry to Cozumel, explore the ruins of Tulum and Coba, or swim in a cenote, for starters. For a unique variety show unlike anything else on the planet, visit Coco Bongo Show & Disco.

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